Government transparency directly related to our liberty

In Advocacy on April 16, 2014 at 3:40 pm

In his book “Transparent Government: What it Means and How you can Make it Happen,” Donald Gordan quotes Patrick Henry’s words from the June 9, 1788 Virginia Constitutional Convention:

“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”

Gordon, who teaches political history at Northwestern University writes, ” To practice democracy in a republic requires that we not abdicate our role as citizens.”

The author elaborated on Henry’s strong advocacy for transparency in the new government when he said “…to cover with the veil of secrecy the common routine of business, is an abomination in the eyes of every intelligent man, and every friend to this country.”

In fact, Gordon suggests that it would not be inaccurate to refer to Patrick Henry as “the father of transparency in government.”

Gordon also reminds the reader of the words of Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Edward Carrington that are often quoted by journalists:

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the later.”

However, despite Jefferson’s appraisal of newspapers as a Fourth Estate, providing a system of checks and balances for a fledgling republic, Gordon is quick to point out that the founding fathers placed the primary responsibility for holding government in check squarely on the shoulders of citizens themselves.

In Part I: Making the Case for Transparency in Government, he writes:

“Jefferson believed in the superiority of newspapers over government. He would have been proud of the work of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, reporters for the Washington Post, in uncovering the cover-up of the Watergate scandal. But Jefferson also understood that ‘the people are the only censors of their governors.’ The media certainly play a major role in keeping government honest, but in the end it is We the People who are inevitably responsible for keeping our democracy. It is better to have a thousand eyes than just a few focus on the workings of our government.”

Gordon calls the words “We the People,” the three most significant words in the history of the United States, explaining, “We are at once the government and the governed.”

Not giving ordinary people access to government meetings or documents is taking away what rightfully belongs to them.

It is stealing their liberty.

All the business government does, is the people’s business.

As a newspaper, these principles guide us, motivate us and temper us in the commission of our duties.

As citizens, these principles, and the words of our founders, should rally us and embolden us to hold government accountable at all times.

We encourage our county commissioners, chairman, members of the board of education, mayors and city council members to never lose sight of the very basic core values that are part and parcel of our constitutional republic and essential to our freedom as Americans.

— Director Jim Zachary

Tennessee Transparency Project helps shine light as part of Sunshine Week

In Advocacy on March 17, 2014 at 10:19 pm

The Tennessee Transparency Project has joined open government advocates throughout the nation during Sunshine Week as we highlight the importance of government transparency. 

Tennessee Transparency Project opinion column, written by Director Jim Zachary, is included in the Sunshine Week Toolkit located at

The Tennessee Transparency Project opinion column from the Toolkit: 



Openness in government is not a liberal, conservative, republican, democrat, independent, TEA party or libertarian issue. The importance of transparency in local, state and federal government should transcend parties and political ideologies. Checks and balances provide few checks and little balance when officials broker deals behind closed doors and conceal documents that contain important information that citizens have the right, and often the need, to know. Local government has the biggest impact in the lives of citizens on a day to day basis. Whether it is in the form of property taxes, sales taxes, personal property taxes, business taxes, state-shared dollars or federal grants, loans and funding, local government is 100 percent taxpayer funded. The decisions being made, the monies being spent and the records being kept by city hall, the county commission, the board of education or the utility district all belong to liberals, conservatives, republicans, democrats, independents, TEA party volunteers, libertarians and even politically disinterested individuals. All stakeholders have a stake in open meetings and public records and should care about transparency issues. Bipartisanship is like the weather — everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it. The difference is while a person can’t change the weather, officials could choose to work together. The lack of and need for true government transparency should be truly be a bipartisan cause. Any elected officials who truly care about public service in a real and meaningful way and fully understand what a representative form of government is all about, should not only champion openness in government, but should be the most effective watchdogs, looking out for the public trust. Sadly, those kinds of elected officials are hard to find. We encourage those officials who do care and who do understand to become a part of the transparency project and enhance their public service.

Jim Zachary, Director

Tennessee Transparency Project


Time to champion Sunshine Week

In Advocacy on March 12, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Sunshine Week 2014 begins Sunday, March 16.

The Transparency Project encourages all open government advocates, newspapers, watchdog groups and public officials who believe in the importance of government transparency to join us in highlighting this week long effort. 

The American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press are encouraging open government advocates throughout the nation to join them in celebrating the importance of open government. The campaign begins Sunday, March 16, and concludes Saturday, March 22. 

 There are dozens of Sunshine Week events hosted by various organizations around the country. The 16th annual National Freedom of Information Day at the Newseum and the Chicago Headline Club’s FOIA Fest are Friday, March 14. The D.C. Open Government Summittakes place next Wednesday, March 19. Other events include Seventh Annual FOI Day CelebrationSunshine Week 2014 Celebration at the Department of Justice, Unlocking Government Data,Threats to Transparency: Problems with Money in Politics, and other events listed at

According to ASNE, Sunshine Week 2014 is made possible by an endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and donations from Bloomberg and the Gridiron Club and Foundation. 

Watchdog groups, newspapers and individuals are encouraged to take part and can find a “Toolkit” at the Sunshine Week website that includes free editorial cartoons and opinion columns to be used during the week of March 16-22.

For more information on Sunshine Week and how to participate, visit or contact us at


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